Detection limits of albedo changes induced by climate engineering

  • An Erratum to this article was published on 26 February 2014

Abstract

A key question surrounding proposals for climate engineering by increasing Earth's reflection of sunlight is the feasibility of detecting engineered albedo increases from short-duration experiments or prolonged implementation of solar-radiation management. We show that satellite observations permit detection of large increases, but interannual variability overwhelms the maximum conceivable albedo increases for some schemes. Detection of an abrupt global average albedo increase <0.002 (comparable to a 0.7 W m−2 reduction in radiative forcing) would be unlikely within a year, given a five-year prior record. A three-month experiment in the equatorial zone (5° N–5° S), a potential target for stratospheric aerosol injection, would need to cause an 0.03 albedo increase, three times larger than that due to the Mount Pinatubo eruption, to be detected. Detection limits for three-month experiments in 1° (latitude and longitude) regions of the subtropical Pacific, possible targets for cloud brightening, are 0.2, which is larger than might be expected from some model simulations.

Access options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

from$8.99

All prices are NET prices.

Figure 1: Albedo climatology and detection limit maps.
Figure 2: Global and regional albedo time series.
Figure 3: Global albedo detection probabilities.
Figure 4: Regional albedo detection limits.
Figure 5: Detectability of field experiments.

Change history

  • 29 January 2014

    In the version of this Perspective originally published, the final phrase of the abstract should have read 'are 0.2, which is larger than might be expected from some model simulations.' Additionally, the affiliation number for Norman Loeb was missing in the address list. These errors have been corrected in the online versions of the Perspective.

References

  1. 1

    Shepherd, J. Geoengineering the Climate: Science, Governance and Uncertainty (The Royal Society, 2009).

  2. 2

    Bipartisan Policy Center's Task Force on Climate Remediation Research Geoengineering: A National Strategic Plan for Research on the Potential Effectiveness, Feasibility, and Consequences of Climate Remediation Technologies (Bipartisan Policy Center, 2011); http://bipartisanpolicy.org/library/report/task-force-climate-remediation-research

  3. 3

    Climate Engineering: Technical Status, Future Directions, and Potential Responses GAO-11-71 (US Government Accountability Office, 2011); http://www.gao.gov/assets/330/322208.pdf

  4. 4

    Vaughan, N. E. & Lenton, T. M. A review of climate geoengineering proposals. Climatic Change 109, 745–790 (2011).

  5. 5

    Convention on Biological Diversity Additional Information on Options for Definitions of Climate-Related Geoengineering UNEP/CBD/COP/11/INF/2 (UNEP, 2012); http://www.cbd.int/doc/meetings/cop/cop-11/information/cop-11-inf-26-en.pdf

  6. 6

    Belter, C. W. & Seidel, D. J. A bibliometric analysis of climate engineering research. WIREs Clim. Change 4, 417–427 (2013).

  7. 7

    Blackstock, J. J. et al. Climate Engineering Responses to Climate Emergencies Preprint at http://arxiv.org/pdf/0907.5140 (Novim, 2009).

  8. 8

    MacMynowski, D. G., Keith, D., Caldeira, K. & Shin, H-J. Can we test geoengineering? Energ. Environ. Sci. 4, 5044–5052 (2011).

  9. 9

    Stevens, B. & Feingold, G. Untangling aerosol effects on clouds and precipitation in a buffered system. Nature 461, 607–613 (2009).

  10. 10

    Voigt, A., Stevens, B., Bader, J. & Mauritsen, T. The observed hemispheric symmetry in reflected shortwave irradiance. J. Clim. 26, 468–477 (2013).

  11. 11

    Parson, E. A. & Keith, D. W. End the deadlock on governance of geoengineering research. Science 339, 1278–1279 (2013).

  12. 12

    Solar Radiation Management Governance Initiative Solar Radiation Management: The Governance of Research (SRMGI, 2011); http://www.srmgi.org/report

  13. 13

    Loeb, N. G. et al. Multi-instrument comparison of top-of-atmosphere reflected solar radiation. J. Clim. 20, 575–591 (2007).

  14. 14

    Loeb, N. G. et al. Toward optimal closure of the Earth's top-of-atmosphere radiation budget. J. Clim. 22, 748–766 (2009).

  15. 15

    Loeb, N. G. et al. Advances in understanding top-of-atmosphere radiation variability from satellite observations. Surv. Geophys. 33, 359–385 (2012).

  16. 16

    Hatzianastassiou, N. et al. Long-term global distribution of Earth's shortwave radiation budget at the top of atmosphere. Atmos. Chem. Phys. 4, 1217–1235 (2004).

  17. 17

    Lenton, T. M. & Vaughan, N. E. The radiative forcing potential of different climate geoengineering options. Atmos. Chem. Phys. 9, 5539–5561 (2009).

  18. 18

    Hamwey, R. M. Active amplification of the terrestrial albedo to mitigate climate change: an exploratory study. Mitig. Adapt. Strat. Glob. Change 12, 419–439 (2007).

  19. 19

    Minnis, P. et al. Radiative climate forcing by the Mount Pinatubo eruption. Science 259, 1411–1415 (1993).

  20. 20

    Latham, J. et al. Marine cloud brightening. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A 370, 4217–4262 (2012).

  21. 21

    Wang, H. & Feingold, G. Modeling mesoscale cellular structure and drizzle in marine stratocumulus. Part II: The microphysics and dynamics of the boundary region between open and closed cells. J. Atmos. Sci. 66, 3257–3275 (2009).

  22. 22

    Global Climate Observing System Implementation Plan for the Global Observing System for Climate in Support of the UNFCCC, Executive Summary GCOS–92 (ES) (WMO/TD No. 1244, World Meteorological Organization, 2004); http://www.wmo.int/pages/prog/gcos/Publications/gcos-92_GIP_ES.pdf

  23. 23

    Stevens, B. et al. Dynamics and chemistry of marine stratocumulus — DYCOMS-II. Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 84, 579–593 (2003).

  24. 24

    Wood, R. et al. The VAMOS ocean-cloud-atmosphere-land study regional experiment (VOCALS-REx): goals, platforms, and field operations. Atmos. Chem. Phys. 11, 627–654 (2011).

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Dian J. Seidel.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Fig. S1

(PDF 141 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Seidel, D., Feingold, G., Jacobson, A. et al. Detection limits of albedo changes induced by climate engineering. Nature Clim Change 4, 93–98 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2076

Download citation

Further reading